Denise Juneau votes in favor of future generations

Denise Juneau, Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, showed courage and wisdom in her comments explaining why she voted against the leasing of the Otter Creek Coal Tracts on December 21.  She was the only member of the five person State Land Board to do so.

This is a huge issue for many Montanans. I know we have all heard many arguments, both pro and con, from hundreds of citizens all across this state. I appreciated our public hearings in Miles City and Lame Deer, in addition to all the public comment at our meetings here in Helena. I value all of the input and advice that poured in from many different fronts, tribal, county, business, environmental, political, and industry. This decision is not easy, and I know each of us spent hours reading, discussing, and meeting about this issue and I respect every board member’s vote Monday. After weighing every component and factor, I have come to the conclusion that I must vote “no” on going forward to lease the Otter Creek tracts.

Those who support development might say that I am not meeting my fiduciary responsibility by refusing a simple “yes” vote. A “yes” vote might result in bonus bid funds to off-set general fund obligations of the legislature. It is not that simple, however. A “yes” vote would not necessarily be in the best interests of the school trust beneficiaries. It is time for us to be visionary. We cannot vote as if we have blinders on and only see our present economic picture. We must take lessons from the past 7 generations and also look forward and provide for the interests of the next 7 generations.

Of course there is value in mining the coal, potentially a lot of money over the next 40-50 years, but there is also value in keeping Montana “Montana.” A large part of Montana’s economic history is from extracting non-renewable resources. We are all familiar with Berkley Pit, the mining consequences at the Milltown Dam, and the physical and financial repercussions of the vermiculite mine in Libby.

There is an argument that the immediate value gained in extracting this finite resource might be lost in other, tangible costs to the state and its people, including school children. Montana’s future economy and the sustainable value to the school trust lands could very well be in preserving the land for future beneficiaries. Whether for other purposes or future development, technology continues to advance. The coal is not going anywhere. It is entirely possible that these lands will only become more valuable.

Critics might also say a “no” vote means I don’t support our schools. That is just silly, of course I support our schools. I support our schools so much that I ran for the office that oversees all of our public schools. We need to remember the amount of funding going to our schools is a decision for the legislature, and is not based on this vote. I am not turning my back on money for schools. I am upholding my duty and my responsibility to the children of this great state and saying that the greatest value and the best use of that land should not be determined by this board Monday.

The land board has been diligent in its development of resources and leasing of lands all across this state. We could sell every parcel of state land and log every tree on state lands, but we don’t. We don’t because we want to sustain Montana’s lands for the future beneficial use. That is sound stewardship.

In this case, development is a one shot deal. The determination of the real value of this land should not hinge on this vote. I cannot in good faith vote to disregard the future potential of these lands.

Thank you Governor for allowing me this explanation of my vote Monday.

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